Sacred sites breed contention


If Israelis and Palestinians are to negotiate a permanent peace, they will have to agree how to govern Jerusalem.

If they are to agree how to govern Jerusalem, they must agree above all on who will govern which parts of the Old City - the area enclosed by a 40-foot-high wall built by Sultan Suleiman in 1537.

Within the Old City are many of the sites revered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They are, in some cases, built on top of each other, and thus impossible to separate. Yet that is what the United States is urging Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to do: to consider sharing sovereignty over places each people believes to be its own.

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat opposes a U.S. plan that would grant Palestinians partial sovereignty in the Old City and defer final decisions for at least a decade. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak opposes giving up Israeli control over some of those sites and accuses Arafat of a lack of flexibility.

Their disagreements have come down to this - a few hundred acres enclosed by high stone walls.

Temple Mount

Jews venerate this high, 35-acre rock plateau as the site of the First Temple, built by King Solomon, and the Second, finished by King Herod, a structure destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. Muslims know the area as Haram al Sharif, or "Noble Sanctuary," and revere it as the place where the prophet Mohammed ascended to paradise on a winged horse.

Western Wall

It is the only remnant of the second Temple, and Jews consider it the holiest of all places. It is a 200-foot section of a retaining wall built by Herod in 20 B.C. When Jordan controlled the Old City, from 1948 to 1967, authorities barred Jews from access to the wall. After Israel captured the Old City, in 1967, Israeli authorities cleared an Arab neighborhood adjacent to the wall and expanded the plaza where Jews come to pray.

Dome of the Rock

The eight-sided building with a dome sheathed in gold leaf is the first great religious structure built by Islam. Completed in 691, the building surrounds the rock upon which Jewish tradition holds that Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, and which Muslim traditions says was the place from which the prophet Mohammed flew to paradise to receive the Koran from the angel Gabriel.

Al Aqsa Mosque

Built at the beginning of the eighth century, the mosque became a palace for the Crusaders in 1099, until Muslims reconquered Jerusalem in 1187.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Christian tradition holds it to be the site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. In Jesus' time, the site was outside the city walls. Construction of the first church here began in 326, a building that was destroyed in 614 during the Persian conquest. It was rebuilt in 629 but destroyed again, in 1009 during Muslim rule. Reconstruction began in 1042, and a long cycle of destructions and repairs continued well into the 20th century.

Via Dolorosa

According to tradition, the Street of Sorrows is the path walked by Jesus with a cross on his back as he made his way to the place of his crucifixion. Pilgrims followed different routes over the centuries, and the current route came into use in the 15th century. Nine of the 14 Stations of the Cross are along the road, the others inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Golden Gate

It probably stands on the site of the gate through which Jesus entered the city on what is today observed as Palm Sunday. Jewish tradition holds that the messiah will enter Jerusalem through this gate, which may be one reason Islamic authorities walled it up in the 12th century.

Damascus Gate

It serves as the main entrance to the Old City's Muslim Quarter and dates to 1537.

Jaffa Gate

The entrance to the Christian and Armenian quarters was altered in 1898 to allow German Kaiser Wilhelm II's car to enter.

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